The Nationals plan to activate relief pitcher Ryan Mattheus as the 26th man from the disabled list on Friday for their doubleheader against the New York Mets, and later in the night will have to decide who goes back down to make the roster an even 25.
Davey Johnson could go in many different directions, and one of those possibilities could be Drew Storen. Storen has options remaining on his contract and has struggled this season with a 5.40 ERA through 46 appearances.
Before Thursday’s game, Johnson discussed the possibility.
“I don’t think anything’s off the table,” he said. “Anything’s possible. I’m an optimist and I have a lot of patience. I don’t give up on people. I mean this has been a long time. He had 43 saves, he pitched great. Guys hit .180 on him from both sides, now they’re hitting .330 and .250.”
Johnson was referring to Storen’s splits this season against righties and lefties. Right-handed hitters are batting .253 off him this year while left-handers are batting .333. Those are both up from his career numbers of .220 and .252.
As a pitcher who once enjoyed great success with 43 saves in 2011, sending Storen down could give him some time to work through his troubles. It doesn’t appear to be a physical issue as no injury has been reported, maybe Storen just needs to clear his mind and regain confidence.
Johnson acknowledged Thursday it could be all in Storen’s head.
“I think the physical side is controlled by the mental side,” Johnson said. “He had never had any adversity, and then he had the arm injury last year. Coming back after that he struggled a little bit, then got it going pretty good. This year he’s struggled a little bit dealing with the new role, it affected him and how his way of preparing was totally different. “
Storen was removed from the closer role this offseason after blowing the save in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. The Nats decided to shore up the position with more experience, signing veteran Rafael Soriano to a two-year free agent deal.
Having the role of closer taken away from Storen – a closer in college and through the minors – is probably the biggest reason for his downfall, so says Davey.
“That was a big adjustment for him,” Johnson said. “Closing as far as mentally is the easiest because if you’re ahead, it’s you. This year is different.”
Johnson himself likes his relief pitchers to know their roles and be comfortable in them, that way they know what’s coming when he places a call to the bullpen.
“To me it’s always mental,” he said. “I try to have the pitching staff and the bullpen mentally knowing when they’re going to pitch. I can look down there and see them loosening up or playing catch with the right fielder, knowing it’s them.”
Johnson said Storen adjusting to his new role has caused some “engine blowups,” it’s thrown him a bit off track. Now Johnson wants to see Storen get back to what made him the effective closer he once was.
“In ’11 one of the things he was really good at was he located the ball good. He had good stuff, but he located it. Mentally when you don’t locate, sometimes you’re not full committed to it,” he said.
Johnson has made no indication Storen will be the move after Friday’s second game, but clearly has thought about it. He also said sending Mattheus back down is another possibility.